Author: Consumer Choice Center

Free trade: a recovery plan with a guarantee of success

If the economy is to recover while learning the lessons of the crisis, all countries are interested in participating in world trade, not turning their backs on it.

On 31 July 2020, the free trade agreement between the European Union and Vietnam officially came into force. Since that date, 71% of customs duties on Vietnamese exports have been lifted, and 65% of taxes on EU exports to Vietnam. This agreement will eventually lead to the elimination of 99% of customs duties between the two parties. The rest of the duties will be lifted gradually over the next ten years for EU exports and Vietnamese exports over the next seven years.

While the European economy is trying to recover from the devastating effects of lockdowns, the news has not been greeted with much enthusiasm.

In France, public opinion has perhaps never been as unfavourable to free trade as in this crisis. According to an Odoxa-Comfluence poll published in April, 9 out of 10 French people want the government to guarantee “France’s agricultural autonomy” and favour “the relocation of industrial companies”. The country’s executive which, not so long ago, defended an “open France”, today hammered home the idea that “consumption must be local”. As if free trade was beneficial in regular times but ceased to be so in times of crisis. 

On the contrary, as economist Thomas Sowell points out in his economics textbook (which is not consulted enough by politicians), “the last thing a country needs when real national income is falling is a policy that makes it fall even faster, depriving consumers of the benefits of being able to buy what they want at the lowest price”. 

As people look to their industries to boost the economy, turning their backs on the essential principle of comparative advantage, it is too often forgotten that free trade has always been a powerful lever for prosperity. This is not a matter of debate among economists. As Gregory Mankiw explained in 2018 in an op-ed piece in the New York Times, the exchange between nations is not fundamentally different from the exchange between individuals: “We are engaged in the task we do best, and we depend on other people for most of the goods and services we consume”. Furthermore, as David Ricardo later noted, you don’t even have to be the best in a field to get a job because specialisation in itself leads to productivity gains that the whole community can then benefit from. The larger the market, the greater these gains. So you can never have enough globalisation! 

For example, over the last forty years, globalised value chains have allowed developing countries to increase and begin to catch up with rich countries, while rich countries have benefited from cheaper and often better quality consumer goods.

Contrary to popular belief, this development has therefore not been to the detriment of the Western working classes but to their advantage. A study conducted on 40 countries and relayed in 2016 by the newspaper The Economist shows that if international trade were to come to an abrupt halt, all social classes would lose out: the richest consumers would lose 28% of their purchasing power, and consumers in the first decile would see their purchasing power cut by 63% compared to its current level. The words of economist Thomas Sowell take on their full meaning. 

However, these globalised value chains, which are the source of so many gains for consumers, are now the target of much criticism. The virus is said to have revealed the shortcomings of the “ultra-globalised” system. 

Nevertheless, a closer look at the problem reveals that it is not so much hyper-globalisation as hyper-concentration that is at its origin. Therefore, relocating production to Europe does not solve the problem of dependence on a single geographical area or a single producer. Conversely, globalisation allows the diversification of supply sources and is by nature much more resilient than any autarkic system. 

If the economy is to recover while learning the lessons of the crisis, all countries are interested in participating in world trade, not turning their backs on it. Free trade has already lifted entire nations out of poverty, so why should it not now be one of the solutions to the crisis?

Originally published here.

Britain must grant refugee status to Uyghur Muslims

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his ministers have offered aid to residents of Hong Kong, but the Uyghurs are being ignored.

It is now undeniable that the Chinese government is conducting a genocide in its northwestern Xinjiang province. At least 2 million are or have been incarcerated in a vast network of concentration camps. The harrowing testimonies of former detainees and guards detail starvation, systematic rape, torture, forced sterilization, and mass execution.

But even after both the Trump and Biden administrations stepped forward and declared that a genocide is taking place, the British government has refrained from showing the same moral leadership. This acquiescence of human rights has occurred despite a sustained campaign from prominent activists and opposition politicians. Johnson and his ministers also remain resolutely opposed to the legislative route to better holding Beijing to account. For some time now, the government has maintained a circular logic when it comes to legal declarations of genocide: It knows that China will never agree to be heard by an international court, but it insists that only an international court can judge it guilty of genocide.

Activists both within and outside of Parliament have responded by tabling the so-called “genocide amendment” to the government’s Trade Bill. This would solve the problem by empowering the English High Court to make the determination of genocide instead. But the government has repeatedly sought to quash the amendment. At one point, when members of Parliament looked ready to endorse the amendment, the government resorted to an arcane parliamentary procedure (and a touch of bullying) to block the vote. This triggered fury on both sides of the House of Commons.

For whatever reason, likely the fear of Chinese economic retaliation, the government is willing to abandon what should be sacred British principles of justice. But surely, Johnson cannot oppose the basic humanitarian step of recognizing the plight of Beijing’s victims and offering them a path to safety?

Allowing victims of appalling violence and persecution to seek refuge would be the least that a democratic nation like Britain could do. The government belatedly did something similar for residents of Hong Kong, who have also experienced the sharp end of the Chinese Communist Party’s instincts in recent months. A new visa route was opened, offering Hong Kong-based holders of a British National Overseas passport an expedited route to becoming citizens. The scheme has already seen considerable success, with the government at one point granting five passports a minute to Hongkongers.

The move to offer 3 million residents of Hong Kong an escape route was welcome. Still, we implore the government to extend its hand to the Uyghurs, who are also in need of urgent aid. As the Chinese government takes new steps with each passing week to tighten its comprehensive assault on the Uyghur people, such as receiving deported Uyghur dissidents from other countries, the situation is becoming exponentially more pressing.

A sense of urgency should also sustain in our deliberations. Given Xi Jinping’s staunch refusal to allow foreign experts and investigators into Xinjiang to corroborate its blanket denials of any wrongdoing, we will probably not know the true extent of its ethnic cleansing until it is much too late to do anything about it. In turn, it is infinitely better to risk offering refuge to a few more people than need it than to abandon an entire population to be tortured and killed at the hands of a brutal dictatorial regime.

Having traded with China for decades and contributed to its enormous wealth and political power (and turned a blind eye to its various human rights violations over the years), Britain owes a great debt to the victims of its atrocities. It’s time to start paying back.

Originally published here.

Jason Reed is the U.K. liaison at Young Voices and a policy fellow with the Consumer Choice Center. Jason also writes regularly for the Times (of London), the Telegraph, the Independent, and several other publications. (Follow him on Twitter: @JasonReed624.)

Without the use of nuclear energy, “environmental protection” is an empty word

What may seem strange in Germany is meeting with increased response in the USA from numerous start-ups, engineers, and doctoral students who are backing nuclear energy for environmental protection.

In the wake of the Fukushima reactor disaster in 2011, Germany phased out nuclear energy relatively quickly. While six nuclear power plants will still be connected to the grid in 2020, they will be shut down by 2022 at the latest.

Could nuclear energy also be seen as something positive for environmental protection? In Germany, that seems hard to imagine. A significant disadvantage of this electricity is the excessively long storage time for radioactive waste. If you care about the environment, it seems you have to simultaneously promote renewable energies, abolish nuclear power, and ignore the fact that this makes you even more dependent on coal energy. 

And this dependence comes at a cost – for the environment in Germany and Europe. About 80% of the still active coal-fired power plants in Germany violate EU directives on the limits of pollutant emissions from nitrogen oxides, mercury and soot particles.

The pollutants emitted do not only hurt Germany: Due to the high number of existing coal-fired power plants, Germany is one of the biggest air polluters in the European Union.

After the nuclear phase-out, the phase-out of coal-fired power is now to be finalised by 2038. However, there is a problem with this: bets are being made that renewable energies will fill the energy supply vacuum after the coal-fired power plants are shut down.

It is not always possible to plan particularly well over such a far-reaching period. And so far, Germany is still clearly reliant on running coal-fired power plants.

Instead of betting that renewables will completely fill the vacuum by 2038, or instead of continuing to rely on coal along with the associated air pollution, there is still an alternative: power plants that rely on nuclear energy and thus emit particularly few emissions of CO2 and other pollutants.

What may seem strange in Germany is meeting with increased response in the USA from numerous start-ups, engineers, and doctoral students who are backing nuclear energy for environmental protection.

Technological innovation for environmental protection: the example of TerraPower

One example is the TerraPower project, which has become particularly well-known in recent months thanks to Bill Gates’s support. TerraPower is trying to solve a problem often cited by critics of nuclear power with a new type of nuclear power plant design: Nuclear waste.

At first glance, this criticism seems plausible. Is it worth relying on a relatively clean form of energy like nuclear power if, in return, we have to live with radioactive waste – without knowing when and in what way we might get rid of it?

The so-called running waves and liquid salt reactors that TerraPower relies on exquisitely solve this problem. Unlike regular nuclear reactors, they accumulate depleted uranium, significantly reducing the resulting stockpiles of nuclear waste. This depleted uranium is already found in the inventories of existing nuclear waste – it is just not being used productively.

TerraPower estimates 700,000 tonnes of enriched uranium in the USA alone – just 8 tonnes of this apparent “waste” could supply 2.5 million homes with electricity each year. Globally, all the nuclear waste that already exists could be used to provide 80 per cent of the world’s population with energy for over a millennium. And this supply would take place at the level of an average US American.

In this respect, TerraPower solves one of the main problems associated with nuclear energy in an incredibly creative way: it is not just a matter of producing relatively little nuclear waste in the construction of new reactors. Instead, the existing nuclear waste serves as a kind of fuel – so it is used productively, and one gradually reduces the waste at the same time.

That the resource of nuclear waste will run out at some point also seems unlikely when one looks at the result of the above calculation.

TerraPower serves as an example here to emphasise one point: Like other technological approaches, nuclear energy can be continuously improved. Critics of nuclear power often refer to existing reactors, some of which are outdated. In doing so, they ignore the fact that problems such as nuclear waste can be solved in new types of construction. One should not make the rash mistake of altogether abandoning a clean and cheap form of energy. Relying on coal energy instead is not in the interest of the environment. Betting that the vacuum after the nuclear and coal phase-out can be filled exclusively by renewable energies is a risky bet.

Originally published here.

Cryptocurrency regulations are the wrong way to go

An overly conservative regulatory approach is a danger to the innovative potential of blockchain technology…

Recently, the prices of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin made new headlines: After reaching a staggering all-time-high, major companies like Tesla have joined the hype, pushing the price ever higher into the sky.

The European Union is in the process of implementing another AMLD, anti-money laundering directive, which puts a larger regulatory burden on crypto-currency providers. The https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/legal-and-regulatory-framework-blockchainlegal and regulatory for the blockchain that the EU is aspiring to could do the same.

In recent months, a plethora of news stories tinted cryptocurrencies in a negative light – from Facebook banning ads for cryptocurrencies and ICOs to China restricting access to foreign crypto exchanges for its citizens and lastly, banks banning cryptocurrency purchases on their credit cards.

It is not news that volatility in the crypto markets exceeds that of traditional stock exchanges by a couple of magnitudes. From late 2013 to early 2015, cryptos underwent a draining bear market that came to an end with exponential price explosions in the following bull market.

Shortly following any crash of cryptocurrencies, some people feel validated to voice their prediction of the end of Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies and call for harsher crackdowns of the technology as a whole. In some, this volatility awakens a deeply-entrenched skepticism of a new technology that’s still in its infancy.

But this overly conservative regulatory approach is a danger to the innovative potential of blockchain technology. Instead of focusing on the volatile nature of the crypto market and equating it with manipulation or dismissing it as a sheer gamble, crypto skeptics should learn more about the transformative nature of the technology behind many cryptocurrencies.

Despite their popular label in the media, many of them are not, in fact, primarily currencies.

The use cases of distributed ledger technology span from delivering aid efficiently to refugees, using blockchain to build a digital identity, enabling scientists to use your safely stored genomic data and a myriad of other fields of application.

Many crypto skeptics refuse to inform themselves on the multitude of use cases of blockchain technology across several industries. Solely focusing on the volatile price does not leave enough room to ponder upon the many ways this newly emergent technology might change our lives in the near future.

During the recent Senate hearing on cryptocurrency regulations, the chairman of the United States Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) J. Christopher Giancarlo had some encouraging words for the primarily younger generation interested in blockchain technology.

Talking about his niece’s interest in Bitcoin, Giancarlo stressed that any future regulations should not be dismissive, but rather respectful of the younger generation’s fascination with blockchain technology:

“It strikes me that we owe it to this generation to respect their enthusiasm about virtual currencies with a thoughtful and balanced response, not a dismissive one,” said Giancarlo.

Elaborating further, Giancarlo stressed that regulators should have a positive outlook on the future of this technology. While doing so, he seemed quite knowledgeable, even going as far as explaining the meaning of crypto-related terms like ‘HODL’ and ‘kimchi premium’.

For Giancarlo, regulating cryptocurrencies should have the aim of cracking down on fraudsters and fight market manipulation, not to stifle the flourishment of a new technology whose many advantages he acknowledged.

In this way, consumers should be given the opportunity to educate themselves on the different use cases of blockchain technology and have the liberty to invest in projects they deem promising.

Instead of stifling innovation and consumer choice, such a regulatory framework that provides enough space for creative exploration would ensure that future advancements in the cryptosphere are acknowledged as such and gradually find themselves changing traditional banks, corporations, and government operations.

Originally published here.

No more future booze bans, please!

Research shows that the lockdowns spurred growth in the black market in alcohol.

What happens when something people really want is banned? Do they stop wanting it? Or do they find other ways to access it? Our experience with the lockdown alcohol ban answers this question and must give policymakers pause when considering their future plans.

According to the Transnational Alliance to Combat Illicit Trade (Tracit), liquor bans have spurred the growth of the black market in alcohol. Research from the Institute for Security Studies supports this conclusion, as does statements from the South African Revenue Service.

And it simply stands to reason: People are not robots and do not suddenly stop craving and desiring certain products just because some politicians said it must be so. Readers of this article likely know very well from personal experience that, on the ground, the booze did not stop flowing. For the formal, lawful alcohol industry, however, South Africa’s alcohol bans have been disastrous.

The justification for the bans was quite intuitive: Expecting a rise in Covid-19 patients to arrive at South African hospitals, government wanted to reduce the number of patients suffering from an alcohol-related condition taking upward space. The healthcare sector needed time, so went the reasoning, to expand its capacity.

The first alcohol ban was imposed between March 27, and June 1, 2020, the second from July 12 to August 17, and the most recent was from 28 December 2020 to 1 February 2021, when it was mostly lifted.

On Monday, 24 August 2020, health minister Zweli Mkhize announced that they “have no started to dismantle some of the field hospitals [because additional] beds are no longer necessary”. This was mere days after the lockdown was downgraded from level 3 to level 2. Cooperative governance minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma cautioned South Africans against the very real possibility of a second wave in the near future as restrictions on their liberties were being taken away.

In December, when he was announcing the renewed alcohol ban, President Cyril Ramaphosa noted how hospitals were being overwhelmed with alcohol-related trauma cases.

Government did expand hospital capacity then dismantled it, knowing well that a second wave was likely on the horizon. It is the stuff of spiteful, arbitrary governance, then, to punish a massive sector of the economy, not to mention the South African public, for government’s own short-sighted planning.

While the lockdown alcohol ban might at the time of writing have been lifted, Dlamini-Zuma has made it clear that banning liquor again was not out of the question. The alcohol industry is therefore now caught in a position of impossible uncertainty.

Minister Dlamini-Zuma says the ban’s intention is not to cause harm to the industry, but such an assurance is cold comfort in light of the facts.

The alcohol industry by 2019 had supported the livelihoods of a million South Africans and contributed more than 3% of GDP, not to mention the more than R15 billion in tax revenue it brought in for government. Indeed, the money the alcohol industry lost due to the lockdown booze ban would have gone a long way to financing South Africa’s vaccine drive.

Tracit found that there was a 900% increase in pineapple sales after the alcohol ban came into effect. The obvious reason for this is that many people started homebrewing pineapple beer, and presumably selling it on the black market.

Even supermarkets, seizing the opportunity, “started selling the fruit as a package with sugar and yeast”. During the ban, the police also reported the smuggling of alcohol contraband from neighbouring states, and losses to the lawful industry in the illicit trade, according to Tracit, were expected to rise to about R13 billion per year.

While the illicit trade is entirely understandable, given the ill-considered policy decisions made by the government, consumers should nonetheless beware of the health risks of purchasing homebrewed booze. Whereas the lawful alcohol industry is subject to strict quality standards, someone selling beer they had just made in their garage is not. Dozens of reported deaths have already resulted from such dangerous consumption.

Some who do not partake in the consumption of alcohol (myself being among them), have admitted the damage this ban has done economically, but do not sympathise with the alcohol industry, who they credit with the exploitation of South Africa’s poor population.

This perspective, unfortunately, misses the point that the “alcohol industry” is not all directly concerned with alcohol. Glass bottling firms, retailers, transportation companies, restaurants, and a multitude of other enterprises are part of this industry and many, in indirect ways, are dependent upon it. Must the staff, and their families, of bottling companies and restaurants also suffer, simply to show up the beverage makers?

Consumer freedom of choice is guaranteed by the Constitution, and means other people – the poor included – may decide to do things that the chattering classes disagree with. This includes consuming alcohol. The marketplace is all about suppliers meeting demand and creating value for their consumers, and this is exactly what those in the alcohol trade are doing. It is not only economically devastating for government, supported by a small elite of intellectuals who disapprove of alcohol consumption, to interfere in this freedom, but it is also profoundly condescending and immoral.

Tracit rightly recommends that bans and prohibition should not be regarded as a legitimate means of responding to Covid-19, for such a response lacks discernible benefits and the consequences are dire for the alcohol industry, the economy, the government, and the entire South African society. It is far safer for South Africans, whose demand for alcohol is not going anywhere, to be able to access it in the lawful market, where it is subject to quality standards and where the point of sale is subject to social distancing and hygienic regulations.

No economy can function efficiently in the presence of the kind of policy uncertainty presently reigning in South Africa. Government must reassure the alcohol industry that further bans are off the table. Otherwise, we should expect further disinvestment by the industry and the further growth of the illicit trade, even now while the ban has been suspended.

While certain common-sense measures to combat Covid-19 can be retained, it is high time for South Africa to return to a healthy respect for freedom of choice.

Martin van Staden is South African Policy Fellow with the Consumer Choice Centre

Originally published here.

The worrying return of protectionism

Trade is not a zero-sum game.

During his speech to the French on 14 June, President Emmanuel Macron outlined a recovery plan based, in part, on economic sovereignty on a national scale: “We must create new jobs by investing in our technological, digital, industrial and agricultural independence” he declared.

The French President’s protectionist turn is surprising. Opposed to Marine Le Pen in the second round of the 2017 presidential elections, Emmanuel Macron ran as the open society candidate. Here he is now defending protectionism! He made fun of trumpet populism, and now he promises to bring jobs home! But the most surprising thing is that he does not limit himself to advocating European sovereignty – as he has already done on several occasions – but national sovereignty, disregarding the principles governing the single market.

This “reinvention” is, unfortunately, not an innovation. On the contrary, Emmanuel Macron is resurrecting the old Ancien Régime fallacy according to which a nation’s wealth is not measured by the number of real goods and services at its disposal but by the amount of gold in its coffers. An ideology championed by Jean-Baptiste Colbert, a minister under Louis XIV.  “This country does not only flourish in itself, but also by the punishment it knows how to inflict on neighbouring nations”, such was his philosophy. But if Colbert is remembered as the Minister who was at the origin of the “greatness of France”, it is because history is more interested in the rich and powerful than in the little people. On the surface, France may have shone in Europe, but in reality France was “nothing more than a large and desolate hospital”, as Fénelon testified in a letter to King Louis XIV in 1694.

Behind the mercantilist ideology, such as the one Emmanuel Macron was inspired by when he spoke of a revival based on sovereignism, lies a misconception: that trade is a zero-sum game. But as the classical authors have subsequently shown, trade, by definition, is a positive-sum game. Forcing consumers to buy domestic goods rather than the imported goods they desire is not in their interest and, by extension, not in the interest of the nation. As Paul Krugman points out in a 1993 article, “What a country gets from trade is the ability to import the things it wants. France is therefore going to invest massively in certain technologies to “gain its sovereignty” when it could benefit from the experience and competence of its neighbours. An excellent way of wasting precious resources. 

Emmanuel Macron also said that the advantage of relocation was the creation of “new jobs”, but at what price? Examples of the economic war between China and the United States show the shortcomings of such a policy. A study by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), for example, showed that the cost of the Chinese tyre tax set by the Obama administration was $900,000 per job. Moreover, since this $900,000 could have been spent elsewhere, the increase in tyres’ price has led to a drop in demand for other goods. Thus, the AEI estimates that the preservation of a single job in the tyre industry would have actually cost 3,700 jobs in other sectors. This phenomenon is not exceptional, examples abound. Another is the steel tariffs imposed by the Bush administration: while they have saved 3,500 steel jobs, economists estimate that these tariffs have led to the loss of between 12,000 and 43,000 jobs in steel-dependent industries! Krugman’s lesson still holds today: “Government support for an industry can help that industry to compete with foreign competition, but it also diverts resources from other domestic industries. 

These examples clearly show that the economy is too complicated for a President of the Republic,  to hope to administer it. The idea that an acceptable recovery policy would reduce unemployment is a pipe dream: it is entrepreneurs who create jobs, not bureaucrats. Outside of the crisis, about 10,000 jobs are created every day in a French economy that employs a total of about twenty-five million workers. Who can claim to be the direct source of so many jobs? At best, Emmanuel Macron may manage to create a few thousand jobs in the handful of sectors he has arbitrarily designated. Still, it will be to the detriment of tens of thousands of jobs which will disappear as a result.

Of course, what applies to France also applies to Europe: sovereignty is only legitimate when it is applied on a single scale, that of the consumer.

Originally published here.

[AGGP COP9] Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (FCTC)

1) WHAT PROBLEM ARE THESE POLICIES AND POSITIONS SUPPOSED TO ADDRESS?

At present, the FCTC organization refrains from recommending or even positively mentioning electronic nicotine delivery systems, or vaping devices. One of the latest briefs, dated 24. May 2018, they claim at the evidence on vaping devices is “inconclusive,” and “urge the COP not to engage in lengthy debate on this topic”.

What’s more, they have specifically claimed that ENDS devices do not have enough research or evidence to prove that they are less harmful than traditional combustion tobacco.

This claim is directly contradictory to Public Health England’s own research and official position, which has time and time again found that vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking. 

At the 2018 FCTC COP8 meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, Anne Bucher, director-general of the EU’s Health and Food Safety Directorate, mentioned that despite containing no tobacco, vaping and e-cigarette devices should be considered ‘tobacco products’, subject to all the same laws, restrictions, and bans. The treaty itself sought to enforce the same restrictions on vaping and e-cigarettes as cigarettes and cigars. This will actually hamper people’s ability to quit smoking, and thus is antithetical to the mission and statements of the United Kingdom’s own public health agencies.

The FCTC’s treaty proposals aim to equate vaping products with traditional tobacco products, which is a claim that does not hold up to scrutiny and should be outright objected to by the UK member delegates at COP9.

Rather, the FCTC must revisit its recommendations on ENDS products in order to differentiate them completely from traditional tobacco and to encourage member states to implement the research conducted by bodies such as Public Health England that greenlight vaping as a powerful harm reduction tool for smokers.

2) JUSTIFICATION OF PROPOSALS

The FCTC is a global treaty organized by the World Health Organization. It claims its authority from the Conference of the Parties member countries, as well as the Convention Secretariat. As such, all recommendations that come from the delegation debates and discussions are based merely on topics and scientific evidence that is accepted by the Convention Secretariat, rather than proposed by the individual member countries.

This is antithetical to the United Kingdom’s broader democratic goals domestically, and its commitment to further evidence-based policy in treaty-making organizations abroad.

The main decision-making authorities within the COP process come to their conclusions based on political considerations rather than scientific ones, outright rejecting peer-reviewed scientific claims that seek to amplify broader voices of tobacco harm reduction. Rather, the FCTC and the COP are mostly focused on tobacco control and eradication, rather than harm mitigation and reduction.

3) TRANSPARENCY AND CONSULTATION

The vast majority of the advice and evidence accepted by the FCTC and COP is submitted by nongovernmental organisation members and member states. Most, if not all, nongovernmental organisations that are also members of the COP are strictly tobacco control groups that also do not discuss the advantages or life-saving potential of harm-reducing technologies such as vaping. 

Groups such as the International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations have had their observer status to the COP rejected on such frivolous grounds. Because the entire mission of their organisation is not “the eradication of tobacco” in name, it is not allowed to participate or even witness the proceedings. This is also true of our organisation, the Consumer Choice Center.

The only scientific evidence on vaping that has been allowed into the proceedings are drafted, funded, and proposed by tobacco control groups. To no one’s surprise, much of this evidence posits that ENDS and vaping devices “have no proven potential” to be a safer alternative to traditional tobacco.

In addition, the FCTC’s COP, in recent years, has committed large sections of its programming and delegate member time to decide whether journalists should be allowed to sit on or reports on various proceedings of the parties in attendance. This has resulted in dozens of journalists being stripped of their accreditations and forcibly removed from the physical event. This stands against the UK’s defence of freedom of speech.

This rejection of current scientific evidence and consensus, especially from the UK’s own health bodies, is a troubling and problematic state of affairs for the entire FCTC COP procedure. As is the growing “closed-door” proceedings that do not allow in a free press. This must be challenged on all fronts.

4) EXPLORE THE THREAT OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES OF PROPOSALS WITHIN COP9.

Public health policies in the United Kingdom are harmed by the FCTC because the treaty mechanism serves to disincentivise policies that endorse general harm reduction via vaping devices. Seen by the COP, the UK’s policies that encourage smokers to switch to vaping are seen as problematic and could result in sanctions and penalties by the global health body.

What’s more, the stated recommendations of largely outlawing or discouraging vaping devices and vaping technology by the treaty attach compliance with “implementation funds”. That means that member countries that pass restrictions on vaping products are “rewarded” with hundreds of millions of pounds. This was the case with the Republic of Georgia in 2017, which received millions of pounds in exchange for passing a tough anti-tobacco law which also targeted vaping devices. By passing the bill, the Georgian government received promises that it would vastly increase its chances of future European Union accession. The vast majority of the money offered came from British taxpayers, by way of the British delegation to the FCTC.

In this way, the UK’s membership in the FCTC’s COP is not only helping support health policies that directly contradict its own public health establishment, but it also means that British taxpayer dollars are being used as an incentive for countries to implement policies that discourage vaping and make it more difficult. The FCTC’s policies and grants are also being used to coerce current and hopeful member countries that are in large need of developmental funds to grow their economies.

5) FIT FOR PURPOSE.

  1. Because of the evidence stated above, the FCTC protocol has become more of a tool for political power and control rather than considerate public health policies. The goal of harm reduction, which is key to the United Kingdom’s policies toward smokers, is now completely abandoned by the FCTC, if not outright rejected in a hostile manner when brought up by researchers and member countries.
  1. The WHO’s FCTC has strayed from its original intent on helping switch from tobacco to become an organisation that is wholly concentrated on eradicating all alternatives that could help save lives. Reduced-risk products are innovative tools that have helped millions of ordinary Britons and even more people around the world, but the status quo within the FCTC COP ensures that these products cannot get a fair hearing.
  1. Rather than serving as an international platform to discuss smarter and more effective ways to reduce tobacco consumption, the FCTC has instead become an insular sounding board for tobacco control groups and member country delegations that wish to centralise and bureaucratise efforts to reduce smoking, all the while denying the very real positive impacts associated with alternative nicotine delivery products such as vaping. The revolution of harm reduction has so far been championed by UK public health authorities and has encouraged millions of entrepreneurs to creatively offer these products to former smokers. For the FCTC and affiliated organisations, this robust private sector revolution is a movement to be condemned and thwarted. The United Kingdom can longer afford to tacitly agree with the direction of this organisation and is recommended to champion the scientific cause and purpose of harm-reducing technologies such as vaping. With the United Kingdom’s influence, the FCTC could once more achieve its purpose of reducing tobacco consumption around the world.

Planet of the Vapes: Vaping is the gateway out of smoking

The Parliament Magazine is issued on a fortnightly basis to inform and educate politicians with “with balanced, objective and informative coverage”. The latest issue carries an article by Consumer Choice Center’s Maria Chaplia and World Vapers’ Alliance’s Michael Landl saying that “Vaping is the gateway out of smoking”.

The World Vapers’ Alliance has been exceptionally active lately, from attacking the SCHEER Report [link] and demonstrating at the European Parliament [link] to organising a spectacular protest in the Netherlands [link].

The Consumer Choice Center says it, “is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.”

The Parliament Magazine and its sister publications highlight, “innovation and best practice across key regional policy sectors, as well as providing up to date news and analysis of regional policy legislation and developments at EU, national and regional levels.”

In the latest edition Chaplia and Landl say: “The innovative nature of vaping has contributed to its success and allowed it to quickly gain popularity among smokers.”

They argue that despite the novel technology being targeted by opponents as a gateway into smoking the truth is the opposite, and the longer the EU continues to attack harm reduction, “the fewer smokers get a chance to switch to a safer and healthier alternative.”

The newest Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) UK report states that “only 0.3 percent of never-smokers are current vapers (amounting to 2.9 percent of vapers)”. Therefore, a gateway effect to smoking is not reflected in the data and many studies show the opposite effect. For example, smoking rates in the UK – where public health authorities encourage vaping as a gateway out of smoking – are at an all-time low and there is no sign of vaping causing more smoking.”

They address the fact that countries which have embraced harm reduction, such as the UK, have seen accelerated declines in smoking rates, whereas countries like Australia have witnessed a deceleration to abject stalls.

The correlation between the introduction and the popularity of vaping and declining smoking rates suggests that vaping is an important innovation to help people quit smoking. The 2018 US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Report found that the smoking rate has decreased overall more rapidly since vaping became more prominent in the United States.”

While politicians may read the text, will they listen to the message? It’s very clear: “Despite many voices seeking to undermine vaping as a gateway out of smoking, the evidence is sound: vaping saves lives.”

Originally published here.

UK: Bipartisan Inquiry Into The UN’s Harmful Anti-Vaping Regulations

With growing international recognition of the danger to public health the World Health Organization poses, it is pleasing to see that across the pond a bi-partisan committee has been established to launch an inquiry into the scandal-prone taxpayer-funded bureaucracy. https://www.facebook.com/plugins/quote.php?app_id=&channel=https%3A%2F%2Fstaticxx.facebook.com%2Fx%2Fconnect%2Fxd_arbiter%2F%3Fversion%3D46%23cb%3Df12cad97182a658%26domain%3Dwww.atr.org%26origin%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fwww.atr.org%252Ffb516df5bf615%26relation%3Dparent.parent&container_width=567&href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.atr.org%2Fuk-bipartisan-inquiry-uns-harmful-anti-vaping-regulations&locale=en_US&sdk=joey

The All Party Parliamentary Group for Vaping, comprised of Members of Parliament across all sides of politics, is currently collecting evidence on the failures of the UN’s anti-tobacco harm reduction policies

The Americans for Tax Reform Affiliate, the Property Rights Alliance, submitted the following testimony to the Inquiry (full version with citations may be downloaded here): 

29 January 2021

Subject: Comments to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Vaping Inquiry into the Ninth Conference of the Parties

Dear Chairman Pawsey,

Thank you for the opportunity to submit comments to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Vaping (APPG) inquiry into the Ninth Conference of the Parties (COP9).

Property Rights Alliance (PRA) is an international advocacy and research organization based in Washington, D.C. dedicated to protecting intellectual property rights, physical property rights and promoting innovation around the world.

1.UK Government policies should promote the successful quit aid tools.

There is a consensus in the United Kingdom among academics, scientists, and the medical community that reduced-risk tobacco alternatives such as vaping e-cigarettes are significantly less harmful than smoking combustible cigarettes. Extensive research by Public Health England and the Royal College of Physicians has determined that by providing users with nicotine, but bypassing the combustion process that is the main cause of tobacco-related morbidity, electronic cigarettes are 95% less harmful (Public Health England, 2018) than combustible tobacco. For this reason, over 30 of the world’s leading public health organizations have endorsed nicotine vaping as safer than smoking and an effective way to help smokers quit.

In addition to their relative safety compared to combustible tobacco, scientific data support the function of vaping products as a successful quit aid tool considerably more effective than traditional nicotine replacement therapies. A 2019 study by the U.K. National Health Service published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that e-cigarettes may help adults quit. A group assigned to e-cigarettes as a combustible tobacco replacement were more likely to remain abstinent at one year compared with a group using nicotine replacement products (18% versus 9.9%).

According to a report commissioned on e-cigarettes by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (2018) which analyzed the findings of 800 peer-reviewed studies, it was determined that there is moderate evidence that risk and severity of dependence are lower for e-cigarettes than combustible tobacco cigarettes. and that there is conclusive evidence that completely substituting e-cigarettes from combustible tobacco cigarettes reduces a user’s exposure to numerous toxicants. The published update of the Cochrane Collaboration review in October 2020 also showed that e-cigarettes helped smokers to achieve long-term smoking abstinence.  It assessed the results of 50 studies from across 13 jurisdictions, representing 12,430 participants.

As a result of their effectiveness as an aid to quit smoking, e-cigarettes have become extremely popular, increasing from about seven million users in 2011 to 41 million in 2018 (Euromonitor International). Over the next 10 years about six million premature deaths could be averted, if most smokers switched to e-cigarettes.With the introduction of e-cigarettes, a rapid drop in the smoking rate has coincided from 19.3% in 2010 to 13.7% in 2018.

Public Health England has played a significant role in advancing evidence-based policymaking and ensuring that alternative nicotine delivery devices, which are less harmful than smoking, are available to smokers who are trying to quit. As such, this is in line with Government Policy to reduce mortality rates.

The FCTC has as its mission to ‘protect present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke …. to reduce continually and substantially the prevalence of tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke.’ Policies enacted under this framework must therefore aim to actually reduce smoking prevalence. Evidence has demonstrated that recent policies promulgated have not only strayed from this goal but are in active opposition to it.  While the UK has played a positive role in terms of reducing the burden of people smoking, and with e-cigarettes helping millions of adult smokers quit smoking, it is disturbing that the World Health Organization thus far refuses to acknowledge the science and is actively advising governments against effective tobacco harm reduction policies.  The government of the United Kingdom should promote harm-reducing practices within the WHO discussions and reduce barriers to access innovative products that are game-changers for smoke-free policies. Any measures that COP9 will propose should recognize the data presented and consider the UK national experience.

The United Kingdom, as a global leader in tobacco control, can ensure that regulatory measures are based on sufficient and convincing data. This is the only case to implement realistic measures to each country that will be efficient. A general idea about the protection of public health is not enough. The reports to COP9 will likely continue to recommend that countries either ban new harm reduction products or regulate them strictly to discourage their use. An example of strict regulation is the Plain Packaging implemented for tobacco, which has been conclusively proven to have failed to have any impact upon smoking rates in any jurisdiction where it has been tried but has instead led to a boon in black market illicit tobacco smuggling by international criminal syndicates.  

2.The discussions within the WHO and COP do not reflect real-life evidence.

The policy positions presented by WHO should be based in realistic and accurate criteria about tobacco consumption and efficacy of harm reduction tobacco products. A procedure based in transparency and public consultation will contribute more to the goal of smoking reduction. The Advisory Bodies (TobReg and TobLanNet) and the Governing body of COP should collect data from independent scientific teams and make them visible to countries like the UK. Similarly, it is a fundamental principle of good government that decisions be made in an open, accountable, and transparent manner. Unfortunately, COP meetings operated behind closed doors, with no opportunity for journalists, scientists or non-profit watchdogs to observe or participate.  Furthermore, there is no public consultation between the release of the Secretariat report and the COP session. WHO should make transparency part of their policy.

As most anti-tobacco policies and legislation ratified under the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) aim to reduce smoking prevalence, the justification of COP proposals should be formed based on the smoking rate of each category (adults, youth etc), the tobacco consumption and the success of the quit aid tools in each country. Massive bans or brand removals are trade tactics oriented towards the market structure and not the protection of public health. Prohibition time and time again has been shown to fail.

In contrast to the “abstinence only” policy of the WHO, Public Health England (PHE) has offered guidance for employers and organizations looking to introduce policies around e-cigarettes and vaping in public and recommends that such policies should be evidence-based. This is a more sensible system of regulation, which works with consumers to ensure better public health outcomes. It is noted that the UK government can further improve some aspects of its tobacco policy and the constraints (health warnings and advertising ban) imposed by the EU Tobacco Products Directive should be removed so as to ensure smokers have access to appropriate information regarding the health benefits of quitting smoking through vaping.

3.The tobacco control policies for adolescents and the unintended consequences of proposals.

In the UK, the rate of minors using vape products has consistently been below 2 percent.Data from the 2019 ASH YouGov Smokefree youth GB survey suggest that a large majority (93.8% in total) of children ages 11-18 in the UK who have never smoked have also never used an e-cigarette (87.8%) or are not even aware of them (6.0%). The overall trend in tobacco use over time in both adults and children has been downwards since 2010, when e-cigarette use became widespread among adult smokers and ex-smokers (Adult smoking habits in the UK, 2017-2018). A 2018 report by Public Health England found that e-cigarettes are attracting very few young people who have never smoked into regular use and that e-cigarette use among never-smokers is less than 1%. A possible flavor taste ban is a policy measure hurting the public health and the UK Government should be aware of the unintended consequences of such measures. Governmental policies should protect young people and at the same time provide a cessation aid for people attempting to quit smoking. 

The United Kingdom followed the European Tobacco Products Directive in response to the WHO’s call to action in preventing youth from using tobacco products. In a framework of going completely ‘smoke-free’ by 2030, the UK banned the manufacture and sale of menthol cigarettes since 20 May 2020, despite the lack of evidence of flavored tobacco being responsible for any increased tobacco usage. Alternative products such as menthol vaping products  are still available in the market. In some countries such as Netherlands, the Government proposed banning flavors in electronic vaping products as well, a measure that failed to consider the public health benefit of a harm reduction tool.

Flavors must remain available through legal channels as a matter of consumer safety. Otherwise, the black-market will flourish while putting dangerous products in the hands of thousands of consumers. Banning vape flavors practically misinforms smokers about the relative risks of e-cigarettes and limits the usefulness of vaping. Significantly more adults and youth may go back to smoking combustible tobacco. According to the Consumer Choice Center, access to flavors increases the likelihood of quitting smoking by 230% and 260,363 vapers would be driven back to smoking without them.

According to the ASH Smokefree Great Britain 2019 Survey, if the flavours were banned, 1 in 5 smokers said they would either smoke more tobacco or return to smoking tobacco. A US 2017 survey of young adults using both e-cigarettes and vaping products, indicated that a ban on e-liquid flavors would lead to increases in combustible cigarette use and simultaneously lead to reductions in e-cigarette use. As such, any proposals through the COP process to further restrict access to flavoured vaping products would without doubt lead to an increase in people smoking combustible cigarettes.

4.WHO bans the use of tobacco harm reduction tools, moving away from FCTC objectives.

According to the latest Global State of Tobacco Harm reduction (GSTHR) report(GSTHR, Burning Issues 2020) almost 100 million people are now using a range of vaping products and they do not use combustible cigarettes at all. The evidence provided by this report shows the effect of harm reduction products such as e-cigarettes on the global decline in cigarette consumption per adult.

On the contrary WHO in its latest report from their expert committee on Tobacco Product Regulation, released December 23rd, recommended to ban and prohibit e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products (WHO Expert Committee Meeting Report, Dec 23, 2020). This recommendation conflicts with the FCTC protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products that aimed at eliminating all forms of illicit trade in the tobacco environment. The banning of vaping products would lead the smokers to purchase their e-cigarettes from illicit markets or from jurisdictions where they are legal. Public health may be damaged with a sharp rise in smuggling and sale of illegal e-cigarettes. Illicit trade of e-cigarettes is a mounting problem across the globe that hurts economies and also may be used to fund terrorist and similar criminal enterprises. Furthermore, it ignores the scientific evidence provided indicating the power of vaping products to increase quit rates more effectively or to modify behaviors associated with combustible cigarettes.

Despite the fact that the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) aims to reduce harmful tobacco consumption, there have only been a few attempts to empirically evaluate the impact of this international treaty. Unfortunately, there is no empirical interventional study to evaluate the effectiveness of the decision to adopt a tobacco control treaty as a strategy for reducing global cigarette consumption. Analysis of tobacco consumption trends is necessary to discern patterns for future tobacco control policies including the different priorities of each country’s strategy. No internationally comparable data on tobacco consumption are available for analysis by quasi-experiment. An interdisciplinary and international collaboration is necessary under the WHO, setting down standards for research and assessing risk and benefits.

Among FCTC’s mandates was the investigation of novel tobacco products. The FCTC is not a good forum for encouraging new ideas. The investigation by FCTC apparently is limited to strict regulations of tobacco products that often referred to the products as a “serious barrier to progress”.There is a persistent problem with the WHO relying on poor evidence or the motivated reasoning of activists. The WHO Executive Board 146th session meeting (February 2020) called for countries to ban or restrict the use of e-cigarettes and novel and emerging tobacco products. FCTC has examined a limited amount of scientific evidence and, by their own admission, “international scientific consensus was not yet reached”on the existing health effects.

WHO should take a fresh look at the function of e-cigarettes as a harm reduction tool and accept the progress that the tobacco industry has made in developing products that are able to significantly reduce smoking. Science should come first in every health issue or situation. The pandemic crisis confirmed this statement. Policies of WHO, including plain packaging and banning of vaping products, damage Intellectual Property Rights and innovation. States can protect public health without damaging private property right protections and security of innovation. Tobacco control should be a social, public health, and quality-of-life concern rather than a business and trade issue.

5. Intellectual Property Rights are significant for the innovative harm-reducing products.

E-cigarettes became possible only due to strong intellectual property rights in a competitive open market. Intellectual property rights connect innovators with consumers’ demand for harm-reducing products. States can protect public health without compromising the protection of private property rights and market-driven innovation. The effective protection of intellectual and property rights is essential and can promote investment in the market.

When a ban in tobacco products is introduced, the right to property (Article 1, First Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights) is weighed against the legitimate interest of public health. The rationale for the health function of banning vaping products contradicts the overwhelming evidence on e-cigarettes as the most successful quit aid. It is a discriminatory measure for consumers, who are denied the access to products with reduced risk. It may support some fundamental rights including the right to health and a clean environment, but it unduly violates the right to liberty, property and equality. Practices like these, discourage investment and put businesses at risk of losing their competitive edge. Policies that undermine innovation often have unintended consequences, and Property Rights Alliance opposes all measures that have irreparable harm to intellectual property.

6. Conclusion

The initial intention of the COP process was to reduce tobacco dependency and the associated mortality caused by the smoking of conventional tobacco products. In actively opposing the opportunities presented by newer reduced-risk tobacco alternatives such as e-cigarettes, the World Health Organization is now actively working against its stated mission. It is furthermore deeply troubling that independent scientific experts remain excluded from the COP9 process, and the complete lack of transparency and consultation violate every norm of sound public policy.

As a result of the WHO pursing a policy agenda that is contrary to science, the UK faces significant threats that its successful harm reduction model may be undermined, and access to life-saving products may be restricted. As such, unless the UK and like-minded pro-science governments are able to achieve serious structural reform in the WHO, the UK needs to re-evaluate its participation in the FCTC.

Originally published here.

Brusel ide do vojny proti rakovine. Cigarety a alkohol výrazne zdražejú

Ilustračné foto

Európska únia chce zatočiť s rakovinou. Komisia by dnes mala predstaviť plán, ako znížiť túto zákernú chorobu na minimum. Aj keď materiál ešte nebol oficiálne zverejnený, jeho časti už unikli.

Ako uviedol portál politico.eu, Brusel chce do roku 2040 zapracovať na tom, aby vznikla takzvaná beztabaková generácia.

To by malo v praxi znamenať, že počet fajčiarov by mal poklesnúť pod 5 percent z celkovej populácie. V súčasnosti je tento podiel u nás približne na úrovni 20 percent.

Originally published here.

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